One Year Later: Empowered Judaism

About a year ago (3/2010) we received a new book as a gift: Empowered Judaism by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer with a foreword by Jonathan Sarna.

Over the past year we have had some thoughts about the independent minyanim and we have watched what others are saying too.

Some observations about them are just silly and superficial, like the one in the Forward that compared indie minyans to barefoot jogging. We are still scratching our head over that one.

We think the indie minyan is a major formative trend in Judaism.

It is time to admit that a new social network model is taking shape for the theology and sociology of judaism and nothing will stop it.

And that is okay because we don't need a single unitary religion called Judaism. We have tribalism that unites us. We have a few big symbols and stories and books that we agree upon (Israel, Holocaust, the Bible). We share a common calendar (holidays).  We have a shared layer of our religion that defines our borders and the the gross shapes of our religion.

And then clearly we have agreed to break up into smaller groups. While that has always been a fact of Jewish organizational life, facebook and linked in have taught us how easy and attractive it can be to form communities.

The advent of fresh new Judaisms organized around strong social networks, that is essentially what is happening in the indie minyan phenomenon. A self organizing membership arises by the forces of common bonding. like ideas, like ages, like families, close proximities, socio-economic ties.

In the previous go around at the end of the 20th century, within Orthodoxy a trend like this was called shtibilization. Because of that in Teaneck we have little shuls within big shuls, and we have the proto-social network minyanim like Davar, a basement minyan of several intellectuals and others who like to be among scholars.

Now moreso in the Conservative and Reform context we have the next century's version, and it is called the indies. It is a strong trend, it has real social legs and it has unbelievable technology to support it - all the new mechanisms of social networking.

Yes we think the big capital J Judaism will survive this new self-organizing realignment of Judaism. While other religions don't all have the binding tribal element - and it makes it harder to view the contours of what links together the networks of friends, we have that, i.e., the Jewbook technology - the tribal friending that keeps the entire agglomeration of social networks together and functioning.

And last year, here is what we said about this important book:

The book is an olio of materials about alternative minyanim, their practices and communities. It shows both how much has been accomplished in the "building vibrant" new synagogues and also leaves it clear that this is just the beginning of the current generation's reinvention of Judaism.

Will this crop of young and energetic entrepreneurs build lasting Jewish ventures? The Jewish spiritual world is a tough marketplace to compete in even though there is no substantive competition. The American Jewish pie is small and shrinking and a growing number of professionals are staking their claims. Institutionalized religious agencies are not about to roll over and let what they see as the flavor of the month march in and eat their lunch.

The difference this time around first will be books like this one that create a sense of shared community across many communities. And of course the subversive-constructive ease of sharing audio, video and written materials on the web is the other factor whose full impact is as yet not known.

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